Nadim al-Jaberi is a senior member and former secretary-general of Fadhila, a Shiite party that controls the Basra provincial government. The group, which holds 15 seats in parliament, withdrew last year from talks to join al-Maliki’s cabinet after complaining of US interference
Khalaf al-Ilyan is one of the three leaders of the Iraq Accordance Front, parliament’s largest Sunni Arab bloc with 44 of the House’s 275 seats. Last year, he played a prominent role in the Sunni decision to walk out of the Cabinet in protest of al-Maliki’s policies.
MATTHEW PALEVSKY, JOURNALIST, TRNN: Presidential candidate John McCain has repeatedly warned Americans that withdrawing from Iraq would invite chaos in the Middle East and empower Iran.
AIPAC Policy Conference
June 2, 2008
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, US PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (R): If our troops are ordered to make a forced retreat, we risk all-out civil war, genocide, and a failed state in the heart of the Middle East. Al-Qaeda terrorists would rejoice in the defeat of the United States. Allowing a potential terrorist sanctuary would profoundly affect the security of the United States, Israel, and our other friends, and would invite further intervention from Iraq’s neighbors, including a very much-emboldened Iran.
I recently sat down with two Iraqi parliamentarians who testified to the contrary in front of the US Congress. I asked Nadim al-Jaberi, former general and current member of Shiite Fadhila Party, what he thought of McCain’s statements.
NADIM AL-JABERI, IRAQI MP, FADHILA PARTY (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): No, I do not agree with McCain’s conclusion. I believe that Iran became influential in Iraq due to the American occupation and not the other way around. I would say that if the US is controlling the Iraqi streets, then Iran is controlling the state [government]. Iran had no power in Iraq before its occupation on the 9th of April 2003. But it established its power after that date. Iran will stay as an essential and influential factor in Iraq as long as there are foreign forces present, as it feels that these forces threaten its national security.
PALEVSKY: There is a gap in power that Iran could manipulate to gain control and influence in Iraq. Why wouldn’t they take advantage of this?
AL-JABERI: No, I believe that Iran’s influence grew due to the presence of the American forces on the Iraqi land. There is no connection with the dismissal of Saddam. The issue is connected to the capabilities of the Iraqi state. I believe that the Iraqi state is capable of protecting its borders from Iran or others. There is a historic competition between the two states. On that basis, there has always been a balance between the two states, and neither can swallow the other. If the American forces withdrew from Iraq, I believe that the majority of the Iraqi nation would stand against any Iranian interference. Maybe some people think that the Shias [population] would be loyal to Iran, but I believe that impression is wrong because most of the Iraqi army that fought against Iran from 1980 to 1988 were Shia. There is no connection between Iraqi and Iranian Shia. There may be a connection among some of the [Iraqi] politicians and Iran, but there is no connection between the Shia sect [in Iraq] and Iran. Only some basic ideology, but no political connection. Interestingly, the political elite that is loyal to Iran are the same people who are supported by the United States.
PALEVSKY: I also sat down with Sheik al-Ilyan, leader of the Iraqi Accordance Front, Parliament’s largest Sunni Arab bloc, and one of the 144 MPs who signed a petition last year calling for a timetable for US troop withdrawal. Why hasn’t there been a clear statement from the Iraqi Parliament and the Iraqi government of the same tune, especially when polls show that almost 70 percent of people in Iraq believe that the US troops should leave within a year?
KHALAF AL-ILYAN, IRAQI MP, IRAQI ACCORDANCE FRONT (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): The government could never ask the US Forces to leave, because it’s primarily controlled by minority parties that are not liked in Iraq. These parties, such as the Kurdish and Islamic parties, prefer that the US troops remain, because they will be weakened if the occupation ends.
PALEVSKY: Do those Kurdish parties have an interest in the US staying in Iraq because of oil law and trying to procure oil that is currently up in the air?
AL-ILYAN: The Kurdish parties have played a direct and major role in the American occupation of Iraq. These parties agree that the American troops should stay in Iraq as long as possible, as they fear the surrounding countries, especially Turkey and Iran. They also want to use American influence to pressure the Iraqi parliament and government to change the oil law to suit their own interests. Most of the Kurdish people do not approve of what these two parties are doing and even refuse the idea of Federalism. That is why the Kurdish parties will support the American presence for as long as possible, in order to provide the opportunity for them to expand and gain strength for when they [US troops] finally withdraw.
PALEVSKY: How can you know that Iran, regardless of how the US leaves Iraq, won’t take over in that vacuum of power that the US leaves?
AL-ILYAN: The gradual withdrawal gives Iraq the opportunity to gain its balance, rebuild its army and security forces. We also want to add another force in the Iraqi-Iranian equation, so as not to give Iran an opportunity to do what it did in the past.
PALEVSKY: What’s preventing Iraq from rebuilding its military power now, even while the US still persists in Iraq?
AL-ILYAN: The United States is the one who determines the nature of building the Iraqi force now. It dictates certain conditions. It does not allow the buying of certain kinds of weapons. It does not allow expanding the Iraqi force ad its capabilities in a way that would allow it to truly protect itself. Yes, it [America] wants us to always depend on it. They want to make us feel that their presence is beneficial for Iraq an that without America we would not be able to live and prosper.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.